Ashland boasts dining, shopping, Shakespeare

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by Eileen Wilson

It started more than a decade ago when my then 11-year-old daughter, Bethany, said, “Hey, I hear there’s a place called Ashland and they have a big Shakespeare festival.”

Well, the daughter is grown and gone, but that doesn’t stop me from escaping to Ashland, Oregon, with friends and family as often as possible, sometimes up to four times a year. That’s because Ashland is one of the most beautiful places in the country, and it doesn’t matter what time of year you go. And here’s a little secret — you don’t even have to like Shakespeare.

Summer is surely one of the best times to visit Ashland, as the festival is in full swing. The venue has three theaters with 11 plays in repertoire. The out door venue, the Elizabethan, is a replica of the Globe Theatre in London.

This year’s lineup of plays is outstanding, and Shakespeare makes up less than one-third of the schedule. Ashland is one of the only places in the world where you will find worldclass acting in a small, eclectic town. Look through the playbill and you’ll see star power from Broadway and Hollywood, and credentials from Julliard and other world-renowned performing-arts colleges.

Ashland Creek Inn proprietor, Graham Sheldon, describes the festival’s sheer number of plays as the town’s biggest draw — there are up to five each day.

“People are very positive about the plays this year,” he said. “‘The Tempest’ has very cool staging, and ‘Cocoanuts’ has the same cast as the last Marx Brothers play and even better antics — it’s very funny.”

Sheldon said “Water by the Spoonful” is the hottest show at the festival this season.

People come for the theater, but like me, they fall in love with the place. Nacy Silva Sutton travels to Ashland twice a year — in the summer with her daughter and sister and in the fall with friends.

“I love Ashland in the summer, especially the Fourth of July,” Silva Sutton said. “There is a fair in Lithia Park, and you can always escape the heat of the day at the nostalgic Varsity Theater (movie house). There’s river rafting nearby, and I love dining on the creek or enjoying a cocktail and appetizer at Larks, part of the historic Ashland Springs Hotel.”

I’ve cut back on theatergoing to enjoy other activities: early morning jogs in Lithia Park (steps away from the festival), wandering the nostalgic town, popping in to Websters yarn store or Bloomsbury Books. There are antique stores, numeromeous clothing, shoe and hat shops, and my favorite, Paddington, is a three-story store that carries everything from clothing to cards to cookware, and even local chocolates and preserves.

Dining is a happening scene in Ashland, as well. My personal favorite is the Greenleaf, a casual place where I can get a simple Caesar salad with chick- en and some of the best bread around, and enjoy my meal in the park before heading to an evening performance.

My favorite thing about Ashand is the Ashland Creek Inn. With only a handful of rooms, the inn is a hidden gem that I discovered while jogging. Each room has a balcony that dangles overAshlandCreek,oneofthe shadiest and most serene places you’re likely to find.

Hotel guests have been visiting Sheldon since he purchased the inn 14 years ago. Many guests are regulars who reserve their rooms for the summer a year in advance, then plan their plays accordingly.

Sheldon describes the appeal of Ashland like this: “You feel like a temporary part of the community when you are here. Ashland has a special vibe and has a unique way of sharing that with visitors.”

Take a trip to Ashland this summer, and you will vacation there for life.